Reviews

'Ant-Man' Wants to Be So Much Bigger

Having given up on making stand-alones, Marvel's desire to tie everything into its "universe" hinders this movie's inherent joy.


Ant-Man

Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd, Michael Pena, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly
Rated: PG
Studio: Marvel
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-07-17 (General release)
UK date: 2015-07-17 (General release)
Website
Trailer

There are two versions of Ant-Man out there. Unfortunately, we only get to see the one being released to theaters this weekend. The other was a motion picture filled with promise, a labor of love for the men involved and, by all accounts, one of the quirkiest takes on a Marvel hero yet. Naturally, that previous stated adjective, "quirky", scared head honcho Kevin Feige, who keeps waiting for the other cinematic shoe to drop on his weakening multi-phase universes.

So Edgar Wright was pitched in favor of Peyton Reed with additional screenwriters brought in to salvage what the Shaun of the Dead auteur and his collaborator, Joe Cornish, had begun over a decade ago. The results are just what the box office champion wanted -- another cog in the infernal movie machine that cares more about overreaching story arcs more than individual entertainment. That this version of Ant-Man maintains the punky charms of last year's surprise hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, may be the only imprint Wright and Cornish have left on the material.

The rest is rote, with tags and tie-ins to future franchise placeholders, each inside move meant to satisfy at a later date. That's not the way a standard storyline is supposed to work. While much of Ant-Man can be considered self-contained, you can just tell it's trying to be more. Even within its heist genre trappings, there is a distinct feeling of "to be continued", as if Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) are meant for bigger and better things. Again, what does that say about your current commitment to the audience.

Narratively, we are introduced to Lang, fresh out of the hoosegow. He wants to get straight, especially for his young daughter, but the lure of another "last job" is irresistible. Into his life comes Deus ex Plot Machina, Pym, whose chosen our snarky criminal to be the next Ant-Man. It was a title the scientific genius held years before. Part of the plan involves keeping a former protégé named Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from selling the ant technology to Hydra. He double-crossed Pym and now runs his company. All Lang has to do is break in to the building, steal the Yellowjacket outfit that our villain uses to enact his evil, and beat a competitive Evangeline Lilly (who wants to be Ant... girl?) to the superhero punch.

When it focuses on the F/X, when we watch Rudd shrink in size but grow in power, Ant-Man is a hoot. A decidedly lesser comic book hoot, but a hoot nonetheless. The action sequences definitely come from the "haven't seen that before" genre guidebook, including an amazing bit on a model train track. But the lack of complexity and desire for interconnectivity starts showing through the minute the movie goes into character mode. Exposition dump after exposition dump reminds us that Ant-Man will be back for whatever number of Avengers' spin-off the Disney bosses desire. Instead of going for broke and letting Wright run wild, they choose the safe route, and it shows.

Still, this is a fast-paced and likable effort, nothing truly special but little to be embarrassed about, either. The actors are all game, with Rudd and Douglas spouting off some excellent one liners at the expense of the other. Stoll is a solid baddie; that is, when he's rocking the bug suit. When he isn't, there's nary a reason to really fear him. Yes, there are cameos. Yes, there are tie-ins. But this is really a three man (and one left out lady) effort, a cinematic scale that matches the movie's own lack of epicness. In fact, that's probably the biggest complaint about Ant-Man. Instead of having scope, it has sass, and sass will only take you so far.

Michael Pena's Luis is a perfect example of this concept. He's no Groot or Rocket Raccoon, but he sure is a scene stealer. He's funny, but he's also tiring, a gimmick to give this quasi-comedy a few more (unnecessary) laughs. Guardians of the Galaxy got the balance right. Ant-Man is too uneven to be considered that stable. Even the core concept becomes belabored, the whole small/big switcheroo gets a bit chaotic after a while.

And then there is Reed, who proves his also-ran status time and time again. You can see what Feige and company could have been worried about with Wright behind the lens. This film is filled with the possibilities of playing fast and loose with various tropes. Because he's a second (or, perhaps, fourth or fifth) choice, Reed doesn't distinguish himself. Instead, he goes back to the basic superhero handbook, letting his actors take the chances while he prepares the path. When the film is funny, it drives to deliver. When it's serious, it's quite uninteresting.

That's because the odds here are already determined. Ant-Man has to be around to play a part in the upcoming Civil and Infinity Wars, and failure here would only mean more back-peddling come the next installment. Like this May's Avengers: Age of Ultron proved, Marvel is no longer interested in the stand-alone business. It's all about the bigger picture. For something like Ant-Man, that's aesthetically antithetical, and the reason why the final product is merely good, not great.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image